Misadventure in the Middle East: Travels as Tramp, Artist and Spy by Henry Hemming - review by Sameer Rahim

Sameer Rahim

‘I Make the Art!’

Misadventure in the Middle East: Travels as Tramp, Artist and Spy


Nicholas Brealey 304pp £10.99 order from our bookshop

Soon after the 11 September attacks, Henry Hemming and Al Braithwaite, both artists fresh from university, went on a year-long journey through the Middle East. This, Hemming’s debut travel book – which takes us through Turkey, Iran and various Arab countries – is the result, taking us through Turkey, Iran and various Arab countries. The artists’ aim was to create works that ‘would plug the gap that existed between the two visual caricatures of the region’: the violent terrorist and the luxuriant oriental. At the start of their trip, though, it was they who were subject to the clichés (although not the ones they expected). When Slovakian border guards found Islamic leaflets in their truck and saw Hemming’s dishevelled appearance, they mistook them for Muslim extremists. In Beirut, their truck was surrounded by the police, who were suspicious of a vehicle parked near a Burger King which had ‘Mashallah’ (‘What Allah wishes’) painted on its side. By the time they reached the Israeli border, having accumulated visa stamps from Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan, they were asked some searching questions.

False expectations are everywhere. A Turk warned Hemming that in Iran ‘every man is crazy religious’ and ‘no talk to girl! Or prison’. Yet in Yazd, a city near Esfahan, he managed to draw a girl called Ruya. She wore a headscarf but had captivating ‘kohl-edged almond’ eyes. They spent

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